A VFL debut presents a big enough challenge without the need to adjust for the first wet-weather game of the year. But Werribee recruit Isaac Miller has got used to making adjustments this year and has certainly faced his share of challenges.
The former Bendigo Pioneer ran out for his first senior game with the Tigers at a rain-soaked Box Hill City Oval last weekend after a turbulent start to his first year at Avalon Airport Oval.
Having relocated to Geelong in February after an initial period of travelling back and forth between Bendigo and Werribee, the 20-year-old was beginning to impress on the training track when luck turned against him.
“I copped a footy to the wrist and broke my wrist in a pretty basic kicking drill, so I spent a few weeks in rehab getting out of my cast and doing a lot of running,” Miller recalls.
“Then my groin flared up a little bit, so I got put on the back pedal with running, got back into my first game for the year in June [in the AFL Victoria Development League], and then suffered another little setback with my wrist.”
It was a frustrating period for Miller given the major transition he had gone through to make the move from Bendigo, and he credits the Werribee club environment – which has helped talented young footballers from all over regional Victoria settle into Melbourne and surrounds – as playing a big role in guiding him through the challenge.
“I can’t fault it so far,” he says of his time at Werribee. “It’s been phenomenal. I’ve absolutely loved it.
“I was definitely a bit nervous about moving. I’ve never really lived out of home or by myself without Mum and Dad, so I’ve definitely learnt to be a bit more independent with working as well, but the club feel and environment is second to none.”
Miller’s ability to break into the senior side despite his setback is testament to his work rate and determination. Despite a number of impressive performances in the Development League, he admits he had his doubts as to whether his opportunity would come this year, but a 33-possession haul against Coburg in round 12 ultimately proved too good to ignore.
“[Senior selection] is always something you want to strive for, but I had a few games back where I was definitely blowing out a few cobwebs early and wasn’t quite sure if this year would be the year,” he says.
“I just tried to put a few good games together, and I probably had one of my stronger games against Coburg.”
Miller’s debut ultimately proved to be something of a baptism by fire, Werribee coming up against ladder leaders the Box Hill Hawks, but he performed solidly in his maiden outing, finishing with 15 disposals and four marks.
“It was the first wet game for the year, which was something new, but it was a good challenge in itself,” he says of the experience.
“I took plenty of things out of the game with teammates and game plan and what not, but I had a lot of good leaders around me, which helped me a lot and probably made me look a bit better than what I was.”
A versatile player, Miller has been described by senior coach John Lamont as an “around the square” player, capable of playing on the wing, at half forward or half back, and of pushing into the square.
Lamont has been pleased with his young charge’s contribution so far, though he knows there is still some way to go given his interrupted start to the year.
“He’s a focused kid, he loves his footy, and he’s made a good commitment,” says Lamont.
“I’m really hopeful he’ll get a little spike of improvement, as he’s missed so much.
“The whips will probably be cracking for him just at the time the season ends after missing that big block, but hopefully he can finish the season strongly, which will set up a quality pre-season with a bit of luck.”
For now, Miller gets another senior opportunity as 23rd man for Sunday’s crucial clash with Port Melbourne at Craigieburn.
What happens beyond there remains to be seen, but with all he has endured so far this season, he’s simply looking to put his best foot forward and give a good account of himself in whichever team he runs out for.
“I just really want to finish the last five games strongly,” he says.
“If I do get another game in the seniors, that would be nice. If not, hopefully I’ll go back and just put together five strong performances after missing the first half of the year.”
Miller and the rest of the Werribee team run out against Port Melbourne at 2pm on Sunday at RAMS Arena in Craigieburn and will follow the Development League match at 11am.